Terror groups increasingly channelling funds into S-E Asia

Indonesia Coordinating Minister for Legal, Politics and Security Affairs Wiranto speaks to journalists during a press conference on counter-terrorism in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on August 10.
Indonesia Coordinating Minister for Legal, Politics and Security Affairs Wiranto speaks to journalists during a press conference on counter-terrorism in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on August 10. PHOTO: AFP

NUSA DUA (Bali) • Security ministers from the more than 20 countries meeting in Bali have been told that groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are increasingly channelling funds into South- east Asia to finance terrorism.

A regional risk assessment jointly done by Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia also warned that the use of charities and non-profit groups to support terrorism was rising.

Indonesia's financial intelligence agency - the PPATK - estimates that foreign sources transferred more than US$763,000 (S$1 million) to fund terrorism in the country between 2014 and last year.

"Given only small sums are required to stage a deadly attack, even modest amounts of funding from foreign terrorist groups pose a significant risk to the region's security," the assessment said. "The cross-border movement of cash is the highest-risk method of moving terrorism funds across the region."

The assessment also said porous land borders and close maritime boundaries allow extremists and terrorist networks in parts of the region to move funds across borders with ease, adding that poor visibility over cash smuggling routes compounds the problem.

Mr Scott Stewart, vice-president for tactical analysis at US-based private-sector security firm Stratfor, said that while the regional terrorism threat had fallen a notch since the Bali attacks, cells with the ability to conduct small-scale attacks using pipe bombs and firearms remained a concern. "They have really been able to take out a lot of the experienced terrorist cadre," he said by phone.

While it did not take much to carry out a small attack, Mr Stewart said part of limiting that threat was following the money. "If the money is allowed to flow in freely, that is going to give them a lot more latitude to not only pay recruits, (but also) to bribe officials, acquire the raw materials to construct bombs, buy cars, safe houses and other things," he said.

The report called for deeper intelligence cooperation and strengthening domestic and regional frameworks to help underpin efforts to counter terrorism financing. It also warned that small funds sent through the banking and remittance sectors were hard to distinguish from ordinary transactions.

Addressing the increase in the frequency and severity of terrorist attacks globally in a speech at the summit yesterday, Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan said individuals unknown to the authorities were becoming radicalised and carrying out violent attacks.

"International terrorism will be generational; it will confront us for decades to come," he said. "We must work closely and in collaboration with regional and global partners to disrupt terrorism financing and to combat this threat. Large terrorist organisations such as ISIS rely on networks and facilitators enabled by criminals, corrupt officials and others co-opted or wilfully blind to their endeavours, both within and outside their territory."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2016, with the headline 'Terror groups increasingly channelling funds into S-E Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe